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Review: Arthur Prysock, “All My Life”

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Arthur Prysock - All My LifeIf Arthur Prysock felt like a man out of time, he sure did a good job hiding it.

Prysock, a professional vocalist since the days of World War II who had worked with bandleaders Buddy Johnson and Count Basie, was an unlikely candidate for disco stardom.  Yet, in 1976, the 47-year old singer with the smooth style of Billy Eckstine found himself with a No. 10 R&B/No. 11 disco hit thanks to a rendition of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s “When Love is New.”  The song had been introduced one year earlier on Billy Paul’s Philadelphia International album of the same name, but whereas Paul’s original was smoldering, slow and tender, Prysock’s was designed for the dancefloor, with a beguiling Latin groove and the trappings of the classiest disco tunes.

Having lent its title to the Billy Paul LP, “When Love Was New” was obviously unavailable as the title of Prysock’s own long-player.   So when the eight-song collection arrived in December 1976 on the Old Town label, it was under the name of All My Life after the song by producer John Davis (of Monster Orchestra fame).  It proved an appropriate appellation anyway.  All My Life featured a singer who took all of the lessons learned singing jazz, R&B and pop and applied them to a new style.  Such exploration wasn’t uncommon for Prysock; in 1960, he scored an R&B hit with the 1934 standard “The Very Thought of You.”  So while there were no standards receiving makeovers on All My Life, he threw himself into the Philly soul-disco ethos with confidence and feeling.

Though recording at New York’s SAM Studios, producer-arranger-conductor Davis surrounded Prysock’s resonant baritone with the best the City of Brotherly Love had to offer, including percussionist Larry Washington, drummer Charles Collins, guitarist Dennis Harris, bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, string and horn guru Don Renaldo, and the Sweethearts of Sigma vocal group (Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Evette Benton).  These are the same men and women who appeared on countless records for Philadelphia International and Salsoul, and defined the sound of Philly soul.  They also played as part of Davis’ Monster Orchestra.  Davis himself played keyboards, saxophone and flute.  Though Gamble and Huff weren’t personally involved with the album, their imprimatur was also prominent on All My Life.  In addition to “When Love is New,” the songwriting duo was tapped for “I Wantcha Baby,” another track off the Billy Paul album.  It was surely no coincidence that the two G&H songs were the two selected to be released as singles.  Yet the entirety of the relatively brief, eight-song album, including two songs penned by John Davis, is top-tier.

There’s plenty more after the jump, including the full track listing and order link!

Prysock and Billy Paul shared some of the same background as singers steeped in the jazz tradition, but it was hard not to ignore Prysock’s similarities to another singer, as well: one Lou Rawls.  The Chicago-born Rawls, four years younger than Prysock, exploded to his greatest success earlier in 1976 when his All Things in Time arrived on Philadelphia International.  Gamble and Huff had reinvented the soul man for a new generation with the smooth-as-silk album and its lead single “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”  The success of the No. 2 Pop/No. 1 R&B/No. 1 Easy Listening/No. 4 Dance song was a particularly sweet one for Gamble and Huff, as it was their label’s first big hit to feature MFSB Mk. II, following the exodus of many key players to Salsoul and other rival labels.  In fact, the very first notes of the sultry “I Wantcha Baby,” the opening track on All My Life, are quite redolent of “You’ll Never Find.”  Then Prysock launches into a spoken rap, very much a Rawls trademark – although not on “You’ll Never Find.”  The comparison was hard for many at the time to ignore, and indeed, Prysock sounds a bit like Rawls at various points on the album.  But Prysock and Davis crafted an album that can hold its own with All Things in Time and never descends to mere copycat status.

Disco was frequently about pleasure before love, but on this impeccably produced, pristine-sounding set, the theme of romance is never far from the surface.  And Prysock’s burnished tones made it abundantly clear that he knew a few things about the topic, too!  The album is both lush in its arrangements and intimate; when Prysock intones, “I need your body close to mine/Can’t you see it in my eyes?” in Gamble and Huff’s “I Wantcha Baby,” it’s as if he’s directly addressing the listener.  He’s equally straightforward in Davis’ “All My Life”: “All my life, I want to spend right here with you/All my life, I want to make your dreams come true.”  In addition to a percussion solo, there’s fiery guitar and another spoken rap on the track, all adding up to an immaculate disco production.  Throughout the LP, there’s plenty of room for instrumental spotlights, from Washington’s prominent congas to the saxophone breaks on “When Love is New” and “I Love Making Love to You.”  The latter, co-written by singer/songwriter Evie Sands, is practically a duet with the Sweethearts of Sigma engaging in some delicious harmonies and call-and-response vocals.

Second only to the thunderous “When Love is New” in the up-tempo sweepstakes is the brassy “All I Need Is You Tonight.”  Written by brothers Melvin and Mervin Steals of “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” fame, “All I Need” can withstand comparison to Thom Bell’s more up-tempo productions for The Spinners.   There are only two ballads on the dance-driven All My Life, and of the pair, John Davis’ “One Broken Heart” also bears some of Bell’s production hallmarks.  It makes good use of Prysock’s older, wiser stature (“Yesterdays are for fools/And dreams are a game that end in the morning light/But one broken heart can last forever and ever”) and affords him the opportunity to deliver another spoken rap.  The album closes amid the swirling strings of the slick “This is What You Mean to Me,” co-written by session pros Charles Collins and Bobby Eli.

Big Break’s reissue adds one bonus track, the single version of “When Love is New.”  It cuts the 7+ minute original down to a radio-friendly three-and-one-half minutes.  Detailed new liner notes by Steven E. Flemming, Jr. offer a bit of background on the singer as well as an appreciation of the album’s merits.  Nick Robbins has sparklingly remastered.  As always, BBR lovingly pays tribute to the original label artwork on the CD itself, and it’s fitting for a Prysock release to bear the Old Town style once again.  (When Hy Weiss’ Old Town Records returned in 1973 from a roughly seven-year hiatus, it was reactivated exclusively as an outlet for the releases of the veteran artist.  Arthur Prysock ’74 and Love Makes It Right preceded All My Life; Arthur Prysock Does It Again followed it.)  With John Davis and Arthur Prysock in Philadelphia, it was a hot time in the Old Town, for sure.

Arthur Prysock, All My Life (Old Town LP OT 12-004, 1976 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0216, 2013)

  1. I Wantcha Baby
  2. All My Life
  3. I Love Making Love to You
  4. Baby I’m the One
  5. When Love is New
  6. One Broken Heart
  7. All I Need is You Tonight
  8. This is What You Mean to Me
  9. When Love is New (Single Version) (Old Town OT-1000, 1976)

Written by Joe Marchese

April 8, 2013 at 12:36

Posted in Arthur Prysock, News, Reissues, Reviews

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